On Friday, Governor Tim Walz signed into law one of the most significant voter expansion measures in the past 50 years, resulting in the restoration of voting rights for over 55,000 Minnesotans who were previously incarcerated.
Voter Expansion Measures Restores 55,000 Voting Rights
This new legislation is a culmination of twenty years of lobbying by a coalition of organizations. These organizations maintained that barring felons on probation from voting left them excluded from full societal participation, even many years after their release from prison.
While surrounded by advocates of the proposal, the DFL governor proclaimed, “This is a positive day for democracy, justice, and Minnesota.”
He signed the measure into law, marking the occasion as a historic victory for those who have been pushing for the restoration of voting rights for formerly incarcerated Minnesotans.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signs Restore the Vote Act, returning voting rights to 50,000-plus Minnesotans who previously couldn’t vote because they’re still serving probation for felony offenses. pic.twitter.com/gzzoNiDU3V
— John Croman (@JohnCroman) March 3, 2023
As a nation, we believe in giving people second chances and in embracing them back into society. The notion of preventing these individuals from having a voice in their own communities’ governance is unacceptable.
The Law Passed by Democrats Triggers Questions
Minnesota now joins the ranks of 21 other states that restore voting rights to individuals with felony convictions immediately after their release from incarceration. Democrats assert that this measure is a criminal justice reform that will reduce recidivism rates.
However, Republicans in the legislature opposed the proposal, contending that individuals who commit crimes must face the consequences of their actions.
Those impacted by the new legislation will have the opportunity to vote in special elections and the upcoming municipal races this fall. Prior to the enactment of this law, they were required to complete their probationary period and pay any related fines before being allowed to cast a ballot.
"Today is a good day for justice."
Gov. Walz restored voting rights to felons who’ve served out their sentences, making 50,000+ people eligible to vote immediately. It's the largest voting rights expansion MN has seen in decades. https://t.co/DdtRSJ9kNk
— MPR News (@MPRnews) March 3, 2023
The passage of the new law comes after a major setback for activists who had been fighting for years to overturn the prohibition on felon voting. They argued in court that the practice violated the principle of “no taxation without representation.”
However, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled last month that the law did not violate the state’s Constitution, leaving the decision up to the state legislature.
Following the Democrats’ victory in the fall election, the proposal advanced quickly in both the House and Senate.
The state’s most diverse class of lawmakers, which included legislators who had been advocating for the change for years, as well as freshmen members who were inspired to enter politics due to the issue, played a significant role in this historic moment.
Senator Glenn Gruenhagen made an impassioned statement on the Senate floor of the Minnesota State Legislature, saying, “We must consider the victims in this situation.”
Senator Andrew Mathews added, “Those who commit murder or manslaughter permanently deprive their victims of the right to vote.”